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How to Plan Your Small Thanksgiving Meal

It’s going to be a small Thanksgiving this year for many people. Here’s how to downsize your meal without losing your holiday favorites.

A glittery background is overlaid with a photo of turkey on a platter, carrots and green beans on a platter and the words "Small Thanksgiving."

This Thanksgiving is shaping up to be different. While some families will inevitably decide that family is more important than a pandemic, others — like mine — are making the difficult choice to celebrate from afar. So my family will remain in Connecticut, and though we may see my boyfriend’s family briefly in a masked (hopefully outdoor) meeting, we won’t be eating together.

With just a few people around the table, you’ll need a small Thanksgiving meal. Here’s how to plan it.


This photo shows turkey on a platter surrounded by decorative pumpkins, a bowl of mashed potatoes and a pitcher of gravy. It's a small Thanksgiving meal!

Some people are planning to make a big turkey anyway, savoring the leftovers for meals to come. But for others (like us!), a smaller turkey is in order.

But how do you downsize your turkey for a small Thanksgiving meal? It’s easy. You can make enough turkey cutlets for a few people, a turkey tenderloin for a more traditional version or a split turkey breast and have some leftovers.

Here’s some recipe options:

Of course, if turkey isn’t your thing, it’s okay to switch it up. A roast chicken might be special if you don’t make it often. Or have ham, a roast or even a lovely fish dish.


Three bowls of cranberry sauce sit on a cutting board. If you are having a small Thanksgiving, you could freeze part of your cranberry sauce for later.

In a normal year, I make two versions of homemade cranberry sauce. Both make enough for a crowd. But without a crowd this year, what’s a cook to do?

Make less (in my case, this means making only one variety of sauce) or purchase pre-made sauce. Both are valid options. If there was ever a year where canned versions might be preferable, this would be it.

Here are some recipe options:

But, if you don’t like the cranberries much, it’s totally okay to skip them. It’s also okay to make the sauce and freeze half (or more!) for another occasion.


A purple casserole filled with stuffing sits on a wooden table with plates and a serving spoon nearby.

What about the stuffing? Typically, I make homemade stuffing featuring bacon, chestnuts and more. But without the crowd around the table, is that the best choice? Maybe not.

Fortunately, you have options.

Recipes can be halved to make less stuffing. That’s one good option. Or you can do as we plan to this year and make boxed stuffing, which makes it ridiculously easy. Why did I choose that option? That’s what my kids have requested.

But if you want homemade stuffing for your small Thanksgiving, here are some options:

If you don’t love stuffing, you can skip it too.

Vegetable Side Dishes

A bowl of carrots sits on a silvery table runner with a serving spoon and a candle nearby.

How many side dishes does one need for a small Thanksgiving meal? That’s a great question. With the turkey, stuffing and cranberries, you don’t need a lot more. You could make mashed potatoes, gravy and one vegetable. Or, if you like more variety, make 2 to 3 vegetables.

You’ll want to make only as many mashed potatoes as you can eat in a few days. For us, that will probably mean about 2 lbs of potatoes. Gravy is easy to scale — just make what you need. And then, aim for vegetable side dishes that serve 4. Here are a few to consider.

The Key to a Small Thanksgiving Meal

A table is set for the holiday with a smaller Thanksgiving meal that includes mashed potatoes and a salad in bowls, cranberry sauce, turkey, carrots, a tea light and cutlery.

What makes a small Thanksgiving just right? Foods that you like.

So if no one in your household typically eats cranberries, skip them. If you prefer a lot of turkey and mashed potatoes and not much else, make that (but do include a vegetable!). You can have potatoes and stuffing or just one of these. If you want a big meal for a small crowd, that’s okay too. You won’t be judged by how many (or how few) dishes you have on the table.

It’s also okay to do something completely different. Make turkey sandwiches on lovely bread. Order out. Have pizza. Tradition is wonderful, but in a year when nothing is as it usually is, it’s okay to just do what makes you happy.